A recent survey of 2,462 Advanced Placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) teachers in the US finds that digital technologies are shaping student writing in a multitude of ways and have also become helpful tools for teaching writing to middle and high school students.
These teachers see the internet and digital technologies such as social networking sites, cell phones and texting, generally facilitating teens’ personal expression and creativity, broadening the audience for their written material, and encouraging teens to write more often in more formats than may have been the case in prior generations. At the same time, they describe the unique challenges of teaching writing in the digital age, including the “creep” of informal style into formal writing assignments and the need to better educate students about issues such as plagiarism and fair use.
Overall, these teachers see digital technologies benefitting student writing in several ways:
- 96% agree (including 52% who strongly agree) that digital technologies “allow students to share their work with a wider and more varied audience”
- 79% agree (23% strongly agree) that these tools “encourage greater collaboration among students”
- 78% agree (26% strongly agree) that digital technologies “encourage student creativity and personal expression”
The combined effect of these impacts, according to this group of AP and NWP teachers, is a greater investment among students in what they write and greater engagement in the writing process.
At the same time, they worry that students’ use of digital tools is having some undesirable effects on their writing, including the “creep” of informal language and style into formal writing. In Romania we have seen these effects in the recent national exams. A bit over half (55,52%) of the students enrolled for the final exam in the 12th grade managed to pass this year.
In focus groups, these AP and NWP teachers shared some concerns and challenges they face teaching writing in today’s digital environment. Among them are:
- an increasingly ambiguous line between “formal” and “informal” writing and the tendency of some students to use informal language and style in formal writing assignments
- the increasing need to educate students about writing for different audiences using different “voices” and “registers”
- the general cultural emphasis on truncated forms of expression, which some feel are hindering students willingness and ability to write longer texts and to think critically about complicated topics
- disparate access to and skill with digital tools among their students
- challenging the “digital tool as toy” approach many students develop in their introduction to digital tools as young children
Survey results reflect many of these concerns, though teachers are sometimes divided on the role digital tools play in these trends. Specifically:
- 68% say that digital tools make students more likely—as opposed to less likely or having no impact—to take shortcuts and not put effort into their writing
- 46% say these tools make students more likely to “write too fast and be careless”
Yet, while 40% say today’s digital technologies make students more likely to “use poor spelling and grammar” another 38% say they make students less likely to do this.
Despite some challenges, 50% of these teachers (across all subjects) say the internet and digital tools make it easier for them to teach writing, while just 18% say digital technologies make teaching writing more difficult. The remaining 31% see no real impact.
The study was conducted by Pew Internet between March and April.